If you deal in the European market it is common to hear people remark that most Germans are fine with English, most Swedes and Dutch have beautiful English – such statements are commonplace and are mainly expressed by British, Australians and Americans, who do not speak any foreign languages and have little understanding of what the Europeans speaking English think and do not always realise what they miss out on.

In this article I would like to share with you a glimpse of the relation of Europeans with English and with their own language. I hope to show you how realising and understanding the importance of European languages can give you a competitive edge when doing business in Europe.

One of my Australian customers I have been working with for more than (5) five years now has fully realised the importance of languages. They know the importance (obligation) of providing technical documentation in the language of the country they sell to, for example user manuals, any technical guidelines, declaration of conformity. In addition, they also endeavour to have collateral material available in multiple languages.
I can assure you the relief I see in the eyes of European distributors when they know they don’t have to ask for translations of manuals and product brochures into their own language. Their reaction is always “Oh great now we can start!” Europeans get tired of having to explain to an English speaking supplier that they need marketing collateral and technical information in their own language and that the English version of product material is not enough.. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard such stories.

Here are the reasons why you cannot overlook translating your documents and collateral material into European languages. First, even though, a lot of European nations have a very high standard of English teaching. English remains a second language in Europe, and it means that reading and fully understanding a document in English still takes more effort than reading in our own native language. For example, for me even though I live in Australia and run a business where I speak English all day long, in my spare time I still prefer to read in French, it is more relaxing for me. Now imagine you are a German sales representative, your English is okay. You have been asked by your boss to start selling a new breakthrough technology coming from Australia or the US. What language do you think, you would prefer to be trained in to learn how to sell this new technology? Of course, you would much prefer to be trained in German! Particularly, if there are technical terms you need to have a good grasp of.

Now imagine, you are still this German sales representative. You have been trained to sell this Australian technology and you have a meeting with your best customer. Will you be more comfortable handing him an English brochure or a German brochure? Would you prefer to present him with an English slide deck or a German slide deck? I think it’s quite clear that you cannot spare the effort of providing your local German distributor’s sales team with the right tools in their language and that you also have to train them in their own language. This will allow you to get faster access to their customers.

I took the example of Germany, where the level of English is excellent. So imagine, in South European countries, where English may not always be as good as in Germany or in the Nordic countries. You completely ruin your chances of success by not having any training material or collateral translated into the local language. It also means that you can go through the effort of training a team (in English) and spending quite a lot of time on this, but at the end of the day you won’t reap the benefits of your efforts. You will only just scratch the surface.

I remember as a Sales rep for IBM France, we used to receive our marketing material directly from the US marketing department, and each of us would adapt and adjust our own slide decks in French. I recall once, a rep turning-up to deliver a presentation of a technology to a French banking customer. It was actually, one of the most traditional banks (funded by farmers) and the rep almost got kicked-out of the meeting room for presenting an English slide deck!

Being considerate about languages can give you a competitive edge if you are competing with other non-European players. And more importantly, your European competitors will nail the capability to provide multilingual support and marketing collateral. As Europeans, we fully understand this!

If you don’t have a multilingual sales team, you can start by translating marketing collateral, slide decks into the local language, even if you present them in English. At least, the European team can have their own version of it and will feel more comfortable. You can use Google translate for a lot of day to day exchanges. However be aware that Google translate is often not aware of industry specific terms, and context. For marketing collateral, regulatory documents such as user manuals, safety data sheets, short instructions, make sure these are professionally translated. Otherwise you will run the risk of saying the opposite to what you wanted to say. Poor language conveys a bad brand image. It won’t help you create the positioning you want for your brand in the European country of your choice.

As a final point, I would like to underline that respecting the value of the language of your customer will create a more respectful, trusting and long-term relationship with her or him. It will save you time thus gaining a quicker entry to the European market. You will gain a better understanding of the market by creating this trust and respect at the start. Good luck!

If you want further advice or to discuss your entry to the European market do not hesitate to contact me via email christelle.damiens@exportia.com.au or visit our website : www.exportia.com.au